Sloppy. Unprepared. More sloppy.
Those few words briefly describe the Auburn Tiger football team for almost two complete quarters of play in the first half against Clemson.
By game's end, the Auburn Tigers had stolen a 27-24 overtime victory and the toilet paper was flying on Toomer's Corner.
For most of the first half, it was evident that Clemson Head Coach, Dabo Sweeney, had better prepared his football team for battle.
Yes, battle! This game was one of the hardest hitting match ups in recent college football history. Two offensive lineman, one on each team, left the field on a stretcher with significant injuries.
On their opening drive, Clemson put much fear in the heart's of Auburn fans everywhere. A touchdown was the result of that opening drive as quarterback, Kyle Parker, and friends overpowered and outmatched Auburn on every play. For a moment, I thought Ted Roof had started his third string defense.
Folks, it was that bad. The Clemson players came out wanting the victory more.
During the ESPN broadcast of College Game Day, several Cam Newton photos on signs were visibly displayed from many Auburn fans. Were visions of these Newton signs still dancing in the mind's eye of the Auburn quarterback for almost the entire first half?
When Clemson led 17-0, how many Auburn fans were thinking, "We are going to lose because ESPN College Game Day came to Auburn and cursed us." After all, one young female fan from Auburn held a sign exhorting ESPN Analyst, Lee Corso, not to pick the Auburn Tigers, as if it would lead to a curse.
There was no curse.
Clemson came in to Auburn unranked and according to the Oddsmakers in Las Vegas, the underdog. A better name would be the undercat. For the entire first half of the game, it was the unranked undercat that was better prepared and better coached.
It was the unranked undercat that was smashing the 16th ranked Auburn Tigers in the mouth.
While Clemson dominated the game in the first half, Auburn continued to struggle in many areas both on offense and defense. No one expected the offense to struggle as bad as it did and for as long. Give much credit to Dabo Sweeney and his fine coaching staff.
Their game plan confused Auburn thoroughly.
A couple of days before the game, Auburn coaches spoke to the media about getting the running backs more involved. It didn't work Saturday night. Not in the first half. The stout Clemson defense did not let anyone with a blue jersey run the ball for much of a positive gain and many of Auburn's early running attempts went backwards or for no gain.
The Clemson defense also put constant pressure on Newton, causing him to make several errant throws, two for interceptions. One of these occurred in the first half when it looked as if Auburn was driving to score.
Early in the game, Newton caused his offense problems by advertising his passes. By starting only at the receiver to which he intended to throw, Newton allowed the defense to read him and beat him for the entire first half.
Fortunately for Auburn, a ray of hope sprang up with one minute remaining in the first half.
Newton drove the Tiger offense down into Clemson territory and managed to come away with three points going into the locker room at half time. Those three points were big in the areas of confidence and momentum. Auburn seemed to have none in either department all game but now, there was a chance that things could be different in the second half.
Different they certainly were.
From the moment Auburn received the second half kick, all could tell that the team had been rejuvenated and revived. It was as if someone had told them they had a second chance. That someone was Head Coach, Gene Chizik. Before chalk would fly and adjustments would be made, Coach Chizik reminded his team that a new game awaited them in the second half.
A new game is what the team brought to the field.
In the third quarter, the Auburn offense scored 21 unanswered points. Mike Dyer and Ontario McCalebb were ripping off big runs. Newton was once again finding his receivers open down field. Although whipped in the first half, Auburn's offense line decided to do a little whipping of their own during the second half.
On defense, the Auburn players were now swarming to the ball, smelling blood and playing now as if they want to come away victorious. Time after time during that record third quarter, the Auburn defense kept getting the ball back for the Auburn offense.
Josh Bynes led all tacklers for the night with seven solo tackles and four assists. Nick Fairley had another good game coming away with one sack, four tackles and three assists.
It was Auburn's turf and it was now their game to win.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Auburn Tigers led 24-17. A 12 yard touchdown run and pass plays of eight and 78 yards had put Chizik's team up for what fans hoped to be for good. It was not to be.
An injured Parker heroically led his team down the field for the tying score. Naturally, he had a little help from the Auburn defense. The tackling that had been so good in the third quarter was gone. Critical penalties such as defensive pass interference by Auburn defenders kept drives alive for the Clemson offense all night.
In my opinion, a couple of the calls were suspect but nevertheless, the Auburn defense cannot allow themselves to be called for costly mistakes when the opposing team has third down and long yardage for a first down.
There would be no more scoring by either team and just like the Chick-fil-A Bowl from 2007, the Tigers versus the Tigers would be decided in overtime. The coin toss went Clemson's way and they chose to play defense. Auburn would fail to put the ball into the end zone but Wes Byrum's field goal of 39 yards put Auburn back on top by three.
Now, it was up to the defense. That questionable Ted Roof defense that is so prone to critical mistakes at the wrong times. All over Jordan-Hare Stadium, fans were holding their breath, biting their nails and screaming at the top of their lungs for the defense to hold.
Hold is exactly what the Auburn defense would do.
Although the Clemson offense initially picked up a first down, the veterans on the Auburn defense would not let them get another. The Auburn tackling was superb, after two unsuccessful runs, a Parker pass, would go off the hands of a diving Clemson receiver and Sweeney's team would be forced to attempt a 26 yard field goal to tie the game.
The kick went up and it was good; however, several yellow flags littered the playing field.
Due to Auburn's penalty problems, many fans certainly feared that Clemson would be given a first down on an Auburn penalty and this would certainly spell doom for Chizik's Tigers.
At first, the officials did signal that an Auburn defender had jumped off sides. Fortunately, the ACC officiating crew got together and discussed the situation. One of the officials had thrown a flag against Clemson.
The Clemson long snapper moved the football by picking it up and putting it right back down just prior to snapping the ball to the holder. This resulted in a five-yard penalty and the kick would be retried.
The snap and hold were good but the 31 yard field goal attempt by Clemson place kicker, Chandler Catanzaro sailed wide to the left.
Immediately fans erupted into joy and the Auburn players rushed onto the field to celebrate a victory that was surely snatched right out of the jaws of defeat.
Give a lot of credit to coach Chizik and his coaching staff. If not for their adjustments at the half, the Auburn Tigers would vary well be 2-1 right now heading into their game with South Carolina. Instead, they have the experience of being down 17 points and coming from behind to win. Perhaps that will be just what the doctor ordered when Spurrier brings the Gamecocks to the Plains.
Right Tackle, A.J. Green suffered a broken ankle against Clemson and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Although John Sullen played the remainder of the game and practiced with the first team on Sunday, I expect Brandon Mosley to compete for that spot during this next week of practice.
After a dismal first half, Auburn coaches did manage to get more production from the backfield. Freshman, Mike Dyer, ran the ball 16 times for 69 yards. Dyer burst for 23 yards on his longest run of the night, the longest of any runs by an Auburn Tiger back.
Ontario McCalebb gained 81 yards on 10 carries with one rushing touchdown. Cameron Newton rushed for 68 yards on 17 carries. He completed 7 of 14 passes for 203 yards, threw two touchdowns and two interceptions.